By Allan Muir
Over the weekend, a columnist in the Tampa Tribune considered Steve Yzerman's brief tenure as general manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning and said the time has come for him "to deliver."
Fair enough. A couple of years on the playoff sidelines has a way of making folks antsy. And Lightning fans have had their fill of hope-and-change talk from the past few administrations that promised much and delivered little.
But the Bolts, like Rome, can't be built overnight. It's a process, and Yzerman has taken considerable strides in the right direction.
Need proof? Take a look at the talent pipeline.
Not only has Tampa's AHL team played in the last two Calder Cup Finals, winning it all in 2012, but the Lightning's prospect pool was just named best in the NHL by Hockey Prospectus.
"The Yzerman era has not yet been too successful at the NHL level, but at the prospect level, the Bolts have built the best system in hockey," Corey Pronman says. "Elite prospect Jonathan Drouin leads the way, and Tampa Bay has a ton of top talent elsewhere in their minor league affiliates and in the amateur ranks. The Lightning have a lot of very good prospects to go with their high-end quality depth, and that is true even with the fact that former sixth overall pick Brett Connolly no longer qualifies as a prospect. The future is bright for this organization."
Along with Drouin, the third-overall pick in this year's draft, the Bolts have Andrey Vasilevskiy, arguably the top goaltending prospect outside the NHL, defensemen Slater Koekkoek, Andrej Sustr and Mark Barberio, and forwards Alex Killorn, Matthew Peca, Richard Panik and Nikita Kucherov in the system. All are within 24 months of stepping into the NHL.
Of course, anytime there's a winner, there has to be a loser. He ranks the St. Louis Blues as having the least promise in their system. "Jordan Schmaltz and Tommy Vanneli, among a few others, could be interesting in a few years, but right now, the Blues' system is very thin," Pronman says. Joining the Blues in the bottom five were the Sharks, Kings, Devils and Flyers.